A Peacock in Portugal: Tapping into the Wild & Creative Side of Life

I’ve been procrastinating writing a blog post about Portugal because I’m still processing all of the amazing experiences I had and lessons learned over the past month. My trip to Portugal marked the start of my sixth month of travel, or halfway point in Remote Year, and I decided to take the month off – from writing, from working – and simply enjoy being present. In short, Portugal stole my heart, swept me up in a love affair with life, and I am so, so very grateful. I recently asked the Universe to tell me what my sign is, and peacocks nearly started falling out of the sky. For those who aren’t familiar with signs, they are symbols that you will start to see when you are making the right decisions in life and following your life purpose. Everywhere I looked, I saw peacocks whether sitting in a tree above me, in random brand logos, necklaces or door frames. I even had a dress made for my birthday out of peacock printed fabric without even realizing it! I decided to look up the definition of a peacock, and I immediately understood why this is my sign. They are colorful symbols of transformation; a metaphor for stepping into a new life of awareness and illumination. Yes! This is so me right now. After a month of inner peace and solitude in India, Portugal was the month where I spread my wings and let my wild and creative side out.

Summer Wild Child: Tattoos, Festivals, & Road Trips

So I got a tattoo. A tiny little airplane on the inside of my left wrist. I’m not sure what hit me but I decided to walk into a tattoo parlor next to the ashram I was staying in India and, thirty minutes later, had my very first tattoo. I’ve always loved traveling and exploring, and it’s a symbol to never stop learning, wandering, and discovering the world. With that in mind, I headed to Portugal, full of excitement to see my fellow Remote Year friends and to be in Europe – finally!! After an incredible five months in Asia, it was a breath of fresh air to be back in the west. It’s the little comforts of home that I had missed – bakeries, zero humidity, being able to go out for a run on the sidewalk. I immediately felt at home in Lisbon. Perhaps it’s the red arches of the 25 de Abril bridge which remind me so much of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, the warm Portuguese people, the delicious food and wine, the weekend flea markets or the hilly streets. I was also thrilled with my roommate, Christina, and my newly renovated apartment in Santos, a few blocks from the city center and waterfront. I also had dinner and drinks with a dear friend, Sara, who I worked with at Twitter and happened to be in Lisbon my very first weekend in the city!

Needless to say, the month was off to a great start. Just a few days into my stay, I accepted an invitation from my friend Tiago, who I had met at Yacht Week in Croatia last year, to join him on a one day business trip to Porto – Portugal’s second largest city and rival in terms of beauty and sports teams! The region is famous for its port wines, hilly backstreets and landmark bridge. Porto is a short three hour roadtrip from Lisbon. While Tiago was in business meetings, I explored the entire city by foot and was floored by the beautiful French and Baroque inspired architecture evident all around the city, including the Sāo Bento Train Station, Palácio de Bolsa, Igreja de Sāo Francisco and waterfront esplanade. I ended the day by crossing over the bridge to the other side of the Douro River and eating lunch at Taylor’s, one of the biggest and best Port tasting rooms along the hillside. I also had a chance to taste the spectacular francesinha – a thick, open faced sandwich piled with melted cheese, meat, eat in a beer sauce – aka Portuguese comfort food at its best.

The day after my whirlwind trip to Porto, I and a few fellow Remote Year friends headed to NOS Alive – one of Portugal’s largest three day summer festivals. I’m a big fan of concerts and festivals and was blown away by this one! The lineup included Alt-J, Phoenix, Ryan Adams, The Weeknd, The XX, and Royal Blood all in one afternoon/evening. We had a blast dancing the night away! At around $70 per ticket, I highly recommend checking out a festival if you’re ever in the area. $2 wine doesn’t hurt either. Quite a change from the outrageous prices you pay for Outside Lands or Treasure Island in San Francisco.

Weekend Getaway: Destination Stockholm

The very next day, I took a four hour flight to Stockholm for one of my closest friend, Jessica’s, weddings. Jessica and I met over 13 years ago in Copenhagen as exchange students at Copenhagen Business School. We became instant best friends and have managed to see each other nearly every year or every other year despite the distance. The most incredible part was that the wedding took place in Tyresö, where I spent my childhood summers at my grandparent’s summer cottage. It was like a walk down memory lane, and I’m so grateful I could be there to witness the beautiful wedding. For the rest of the weekend, I caught up with my incredible cousins from both sides of my family and wandered the streets of what is still the most beautiful city in the world IMO while eating way too many sweets.

Do as the Locals Do: Surfing and Baking Pastéis de Nata

After my weekend getaway, I was back in Lisbon ready to settle into the Portuguese way of life. Despite being a California girl, I had never taken a single surf lesson and decided Lisbon was the place to do it. A few fellow Remotes and I signed up for a group lesson on what turned out to be one of the windiest days of the summer with strong currents to boot. Needless to say, I spent more time battling the current and saltwater in my mouth than hanging ten but it was fun nevertheless and something I definitely want to try again, in warmer and calmer water. You probably could have guessed that I’m not a surfer chick but, hey, I’ll try almost anything once!

On another morning, I had signed up for a Pastéis de Nata cooking class. PdN, as I’ll call them, are the most delicious egg custard tarts you’ve never tried. They are as simple to make as ever and can be found everywhere around Lisbon, with some of the most famous ones coming from Belém. They’re made out of a base of rolled puff pastry and milk and egg yolk custard. Legend has it that there used to be thousands of nuns throughout Portugal who used to use egg whites to starch their habits. They had quite a bit of egg yolk left over, as you can imagine, and came up with a number of egg yolk based pastries as a result, with this being the most famous one.

Roadtripping & Clubbing in the Algarve

Towards the end of my second week in Portugal, one of my besties and former Remote Year participants, Michelle, came to visit. We had a blast exploring and shopping our way around the hilly streets of Lisbon and taking a road trip down to Algarve, where Tiago and another Yacht crew friend, Rodrigo, live. After a three hour car ride, we made it to Olhāo where we immediately boarded Rodrigo’s speed boat aptly named the Lux Chicken. We ended up on Ilha da Culatra, where we enjoyed a lovely grilled fish lunch and some beach time before exploring the beautiful Moorish architecture in Olhāo, eating and drinking our way through Rodrigo’s restaurant 7 Imeio, and dancing the night away at the opening of Lick nightclub until 6AM the next day!

After a day of recovering from having way too much fun the previous day, Michelle and I set off on our own road trip through the Algarve region. We stopped in a number of small towns including Faro, Lagos, Sagres, Aljezur, Carrapateira, Vilamoura, Carvoeiro, and Tavira. Our favorite villages were by far Faro and Tavira, with their stunning architecture and azulejo (tile) covered buildings where we spent hours wandering the Instagram worthy streets. We also stopped by a few stunning cliff-laden beaches along the way, including Praia de Marinha and Praia de Doña Ana.

The drive around Algarve was incredibly easy to do within 3 days but both of us were ready to head back to Lisbon by the trip’s end. We’ve recently been utterly spoiled in Asia (specifically in Thailand!) with pristine beaches whereas the Portuguese beaches felt a bit small and over-crowded. Plus, the beaches a 30-minute train ride outside of Lisbon are phenomenal and much better, in my opinion.

Prancing around Palaces in Sintra

Back in Lisbon, Michelle, our fellow Remote and friend Jay, and I took another day trip. This time, we headed to Sintra, a thirty minute car ride away from the city. Fun fact: Madonna just purchased a 19 Million Euro estate there! Sintra is a former summer escape spot for the Portuguese royals with its stunning mountains, forests, and gardens. A trip to Sintra is like a trip into a fairytale, dotted with pastel-hued villas and dreamy gardens. We visited the Palácio National de Pena, or Pena Palace while there, which has eclectic arabesque courtyards, twisted columns, azulejo-tiled walls, greenhouses, and an Alpine inspired summer cottage commissioned by King Ferdinand II for his mistress.

After touring the palace, we visited the adorable town of Sintra for a travesseiro – almond pastry – at Casa Piriquita before heading to Quinta da Regaleira, a whimsical private home full of grottos, hidden wells, and gardens.

Tile Painting, Fado, and Photo Shoots in Lisbon

After saying goodbye to Michelle, I spent the remainder of my time in Lisbon simply enjoying the city. During my last week in the city, I explored the Alfama district’s weekly flea market, took an azulejo tile painting class, celebrated my flatmate’s birthday with a Fado dinner extravaganza, and held a photo shoot in my neighborhood, Santos. I’m obsessed with the tiles all over the city and took a fantastic class through Airbnb experiences where all participants could paint two tiles. Azulejos are Portugal’s favorite decorative art – polished painted tiles that cover everything from churches to train stations. The Moors introduced the art, having picked it up from the Persians, and often feature geometric or floral interlocking patterns. I loved the Azulejo museum in Lisbon, which contains phenomenal examples of the tile throughout the space.

The gorgeous tiles around Lisbon inspired me to do a photo shoot with my friend and fantastic photographer, @Jay_Dred, in my neighborhood, Santos. Below are a few of the magazine worthy shots!

My flatmate, Christina, also celebrated her birthday in style at a Fado dinner experience. Fado is Portugal’s most famous style of music and is based on melancholic, emotional songs about distant lovers, yearning for one’s homeland and wondrous days come and gone. Everyone in the group loved our Fado dinner experience in the Alfama and highly recommend going to one if in the area.

As a last hurrah, I spent my last days in the city visiting some local stores including A Vida Portuguesa – which has a stunning display of Portuguese made goods including soaps, embroidered linens, and sardines all beautifully packaged. Dinners with friends, a few great runs, and a beach party completed the week. Despite the wind, the gorgeous sunset made it worth staying a bit longer than anticipated!

Saudade for Lisbon & Prague Police Run Ins

Saudade is a Portuguese term for nostalgic, often deeply melancholic longing for something. After transitioning to Prague over the weekend, I am feeling this saudade. Between the sunshine, the food, the vinhõ verde, and the lovely people I am missing the grit and grandeur of Lisbon. Don’t get me wrong – Prague is STU-NNING and I realize I’ve only been here for three days. But I have to say, this is the first time I want to go back ‘home’ to Lisbon. I miss my morning run along the water, I miss the smiling faces of the Portuguese, and I miss the brightly tiled buildings. Who knows where life will take me, but I hope to get to go back to Lisbon very soon:)

In the meantime, my new flatmates, Susan, Allison, and I enjoyed a lovely first night on the river and spent the day exploring the stunning scenery of the city. It is currently unusually hot here so we are coping with the heat, sans a/c. I’m exploring new running routes and trying out new foods.

This morning, I had my first run in with the ‘police.’ I’m being a bit dramatic but it was slightly infuriating. After purchasing a metro ticket from a man at the ticket booth, I was told by ticket agents that my ticket hadn’t been stamped and that I would be fined 800 crowns (roughly $40) and taken to the police. Given I had just purchased the ticket upstairs, I fought my way out of the ‘ticket’ after refusing to show any ID and telling them I lived in Prague. We shall see what adventures are in store this month, when I am really going to be hitting the road full steam ahead. Budapest, Krakow, Ibiza, Palma, Vienna, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and Brussels are all in the books so stay tuned for a lot of stories and pictures from the road!

2 Comment

  1. Thanks for sharing! Awesome places

  2. Carolyn Bao says:

    This makes me want to visit Portugal tomorrow! Keep it up, Christina.

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